Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strengthening Families of Children with Special Needs

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This morning Help me Grow hosted a networking breakfast. At the breakfast Laurie Bowen, the director of the Bridges Program at Kids on the Move spoke about strengthening families of children with special needs. Her presentation applies not only to agencies dedicated to that purpose but to all of us.

How many times have we seen a child throw a tantrum in the grocery store and looked on as an overwhelmed mom struggles to maintain control of her own emotions and the seemingly impossible situation. Maybe we have talked one on one with a father who feels like a failure when it comes to parenting his son with autism. Perhaps we have seen a family with a special needs child at a restaurant and watched their child throw their food down because its not made right. Often times we feel sorry for these parents, but struggle to know how to help. Here are some suggestions from Laurie:

Take a positive approach without overlooking reality - Use constructive language. Focus on the child's and the families strength's. Notice what is going well.

Get to know the difficulties - Often times parents of children with special needs face challenges we may be unaware of in private and in public. Not only are grocery stores and restaurants a challenge but perhaps the daily routines of getting ready for school or going to bed are also a nightmare. Assume there is more to the story then what you are seeing.

Follow simple steps of kindness in public  - Give the parent the benefit of the doubt. Say something encouraging. Help if you can, if you aren't sure what to do ask the parent what would help. If there is nothing you can do use good manners: don't stare, smile, and send good vibes.

Be powerful - One of the most powerful ways to support a wounded family is to listen to them and their stories.

Develop a local understanding - "A local understanding is a radically deep, intimate knowledge of another human being. This knowledge allows those in positions of relative authority or power to see idiosyncratic behavior demonstrations of understanding that are otherwise dismissed or disregarded by distant observers." Getting to know a child in a personal way and seeing him as an individual helps generate effective support.

Laurie closed the networking breakfast with a story of one man's response when confronted with a stranger's special needs child. This man was sitting with his wife at a restaurant when a teenager with autism sneezed on his food as he walked by. The teenagers mom was mortified. Not long after she sat down with her family to eat she saw the manager walking towards them. Sure that they were going to get kicked out, and knowing that they didn't have a lot of money she resolved to pay for the man's food and then take her children home for some tuna fish sandwiches. You can imagine her surprise when the manager told her that the man whose food her son just sneezed on wanted to pay for their meal and dessert. His explanation was that he was a special needs teacher and got sneezed on all the time. He understood what the family was going through and wanted to help. Showing little acts of kindness to families of children with special needs often doesn't take much effort on our part, but it means the world to them.


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